Monday, January 4, 2016

Internet of Things and the Malware of Doom

The Internet of Things (IoT), a network of devices and sensors embedded in physical objects allowing them to communicate with one another, offers its users a blend of opportunity and risk. IoT applications could save businesses and consumers billions of dollars by optimizing energy usage, reducing healthcare costs, and providing innumerable other points of data that help us make better decisions. The potential benefits of having a web of interconnected sensors and devices are limitless but, as with any great power, there is a dark side. In 2015, hackers demonstrated that they could wirelessly seize control of certain new vehicles and in hospitals, where malware runs rampant on medical devices, hackers showed how a drug-dispensing pump could be tricked into administering a potentially fatal overdose. Although efforts are being made to adapt ISO security standards and the IEEE is working on an architectural framework, at present, there are no established standards for security regarding the Internet of Things.

How could IoT expose me to risk?

IoT devices broaden the opportunities malicious hackers have to gain access to systems - more devices mean more potential points of entry to your network. Many manufacturers are looking to create inexpensive, easy to use devices. When scrambling to bring their product to market, these manufacturers may not consider security their top priority. For consumers, the home is held as a place of privacy and safety and it is for this reason that some consumers may not implement the security measures necessary to protect their networks. In the months and years ahead, an open and organized effort to establish security standards for IoT is necessary to protect our data and our homes.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cyberpunk Everyday Apparel

The first time I really started thinking about counter-surveillance as fashion was in 2008 when I saw this project from Germany (English Translation). The device, presumably installed in a hat, hood or visor, impairs CCTV camera's ability to capture images of a persons face by using ultrabright infrared LEDs.

Nice concept! But did it work?
An old Hackaday article from the same year and a subsequent Instructable kind of took the piss out of the German project. It would work but only under certain conditions and only so well.

A tumble down this research rabbit hole was riddled with various "cloaks of invisibility".

2008 was a big year for wearable commentary on technological observation. This Instructable (pictured left) was more public statement than technical solution.

Living under the scrutiny of potential surveillance, as Jacques Lacan notes, has an impact on the behavior of those observed. Digital surveillance and the mass analysis of subsequent data has become the norm and it is changing the way we live. What Lacan referred to as an "invisible omnipresence" creates a self-enforcing system wherein subjects do not deviate from established norms of behavior. Individuals will, in fact, alter their behavior on the assumption that they are being monitored. The power of this system is derived from the uncertain and unverifiable nature of this observation. Attempts to circumvent this system also qualify as alterations of behavior - as their very inception requires a paranoiac world-view. Brooklyn artist Adam Harvey has made several attempts to mask people from the eye of the "invisible omnipresence" by working to circumvent specific technologies. Harvey implements design to overcome design.

Harvey's project Stealth Wear fittingly opened in London, home of Jeremy Bentham, philosopher and the creator of the panopticon (a hypothetical design for prisons which allowed one guard to observe all inmates). Stealth Wear is a line of techno-fashion intended to spark a discussion on the aesthetics of privacy and to challenge surveillance policies Harvey views as authoritarian and overreaching. This line includes clothing designed to interfere with the computer vision of drone aircraft, pockets to block cell transmissions, and shirts that react to x-ray examination.

Stealth Wear follows Harvey's CV Dazzle. This 2010 project addresses many of the same themes as Stealth Wear but utilizes hairstyles and face makeup to interfere with facial recognition software. Harvey developed this as his Master's thesis at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Although this solution is somewhat impractical it definitely works. The designs defeated several face detection algorithms.

Prior to CV Dazzle was Harvey's more conceptual and far less material Camoflash, a handheld device intended to defeat photo surveillance using a flash of light to create blind spots in a photo. I imagine that strobes of light would be likely to draw immediate attention to the individual seeking not to be surveilled The direction nature of this device also seems to make it impractical.


Attempts have been made to circumvent surveillance technologies utilizing aesthetics. Conceptual fashion may become utilitarian in a world of indefinite observation and examination. However, my initial comparison of contemporary digital culture and the prison culture of the panopticon is imperfect. In Bentham's panopticon the crowd was eliminated and individuals were isolated and unable to communicate. The global networks that are the mechanism of contemporary surveillance are also the tools of connection giving voice to every user.

Within each technology is the seed of its undoing.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

TV: Brooker Wipes "A Good Day To Die Hard"

Charlie Brooker is back with a familiar reboot of his Wipe franchise (ScreenwipeNewswipe, etc). The third episode of his new BBC2 series, Weeklywipe, presents, as 'Wipes are wont to do, a review of notable media from the prior week. The show is nearly identical to the prior iterations but that doesn't matter because Brooker's jocular wordplay and ascerbic critiques of the digital zeitgeist always leave me wanting more.

Below is a fantastically disingenuous review of Bruce Willis' A Good Day To Die Hard. Weeklywipe revives familiar male commentator "Barry Shitpeas" but places him opposite an equally literal female foil by the name of "Philomena Cunck". This is a fantastic lampooning of the talking head retrospective genre, a format littered with who-evers spouting what-ever to a camera crew in a darkened room. Kudos to Brooker et al for making me feel oh-so-smart.

And if that taste has left you saying: "Please sir, I want some more." Here's the whole lot of it thus far:
S01E01 , S01E02 , S01E03 , S01E04 , S01E05

Sunday, February 24, 2013

TV: Utopia

Utopia is a new series from Channel 4 in the UK. Within its genre it is likely the smartest and most engaging show I've seen in a very long time. The show is masterfully done. It's supersaturated color and stunning framing serve as a shocking foil to the ultra-violent conspiratorial mystery playing out in the looming shadow of not one but two apocalypses. Although the shadow of Utopia is largely metaphorical as most of the horror plays out in stark daylight. Previously only the X-Files had delivered a paranoiac vision of the end-times as delivered by the now archetypal secret cabal-of-government-and-private-industry with such compelling conviction. Utopia shows us a nightmarish present but what is really frightening is the future it portends.

Series 1 concluded on February 19th.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Harlem Shake Is Dead. Long live the Harlem Shake!

ThinkProgress has an article on the "Harlem Shake" meme as an example of the co-opting of black culture by mainstream white culture. It's an interesting read and there's no doubt that the appropriation of black culture is so pervasive that it is practically an American value (and certainly an American industry) but I think the author missed something crucial.

What we're seeing here is more than just an appropriation of one culture by another and the subsequent neutering of the idea. We're seeing an active demonstration of the Situationist concept of "recuperation". Anything that could potentially be subversive will almost immediately be recuperated by the dominant culture and stripped of its value. Frequently this is done by commodification but the memefication of cultural artifacts seems just as effective at rendering something meaningless, mainstream and regressive. I'm sure the 99 cents app or ringtone of the Harlem Shake is just around the corner.

This form of suppression crosses all race, gender and (possibly) even class boundaries and comes down to a battle of master narratives. The only means we have of resisting is by continuing to create at a rate that exceeds the dominant culture's ability to recuperate and to juxtapose and re-juxtapose extant works in ways that undermine their existing narrative.

It's a Sisyphean task. Here's to being foolish enough to believe in art, joy and revolution!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

BOOK: William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

Recursion in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

“It seemed to Quentin that he could actually see them: the ragged and starving troops without shoes, the gaunt powder-blackened faces looking backward over tattered shoulders, the glaring defeat watching that dark interdict ocean across which a grim lightless solitary ship fled with in its hold two thousand precious pounds-space containing not bullets, not even something to eat, but that much bombastic and inert carven rock which for the next year was to be a part of the regiment, to follow it into Pennsylvania and be present at Gettysburg, moving behind the regiment in a wagon driven by the demon’s body servant through swamp and plain and mountain pass, the regiment moving no faster than the wagon could, with starved gaunt men and gaunt spent horses knee deep in icy mud or snow, sweating and cursing it through bog and morass like a piece of artillery, speaking of the two stones as ‘Colonel’ and ‘Mrs Colonel’; then through the Cumberland Gap and down through the Tennessee mountains, traveling at night to dodge Yankee patrols, and into Mississippi in the late fall of ’64, where the daughter waited whose marriage he had interdict and who was to be a widow the next summer though apparently not bereaved, where his wife was dead and his son self-excommunicated and –banished, and put one of the stones over his wife’s grave and set the other upright in the hall of the house, where Miss Coldfield possibly (maybe doubtless) looked at it every day as though it were his portrait, possibly (maybe doubtless here too) reading among the lettering more of maiden hope and virgin expectation than she ever told Quentin about, since she never mentioned the stone to him at all, and (the demon) drank the parched corn coffee and at the hoe cake which Judith and Clytie prepared for him and kissed Judith on the forehead and said, ‘Well, Clytie’ and returned to the war, all in twenty-four hours; he could see it; he might even have been there.” (189-190)

Recursion is often used to describe a process of repeating objects (images, words, ideas, etc) in a self-similar manner. Linguist Noam Chomsky posits that the extension of the English language is unlimited because of recursion. The above sentence demonstrates this property of recursion. Faulkner uses embedded clause after embedded clause after sentential complement (my count comes to twenty-eight distinct clauses) to construct this monstrosity of a sentence, spanning two pages in my edition. The sentence occupies, however, far more than two pages of print. It occupies two distinct periods of time and numerous space locations. We begin with Quentin at Harvard in 1910 but we are immediately tossed back to 1864, location indeterminate, positioned amongst miserable Confederate troops. The sentence carries us on a tour of the war torn South, through hill and bog and over ice and snow. We return with Sutpen (and the two headstones) to Yoknapatawpha County to visit with Judith and Clytie before abruptly returning to Harvard and Quentin’s fantasy.

Labyrinthine sentence structure is not the only example of Faulkner’s use of this linguistic property. Recursion pervades this novel. (Even the title is self-referential!) His intentional repetition, perhaps for emphasis, is to be noted. In the above-quoted section he repeats the parenthetical phrase “(maybe doubtless)” twice, in one form or another. This is a technique that he often repeats. Take for example Henry’s struggle to accept Charles Bon’s morality: “I will believe! I will! I will! Whether it is true or not, I will believe!” (111).

Particularly notable is the final, and uncharacteristically brief, paragraph of the novel. This paragraph is so conventionally structured that, after nearly four-hundred pages of recursive sentences, it seems almost terse: “I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!” (378).The repetition of the phrase simultaneously reinforces the sentiment and calls it’s honesty into question. Faulkner impresses upon us that this idea belongs to Quentin by using ‘Quentin said’ and ‘he said’ and finally ‘he thought’.

The plot of the novel is likewise recursive. Sutpen's appearance in Jefferson as a dark, mysterious man is self-referenced later by the introduction of Charles Bon (likewise, a swarthy man lacking history). As the plot develops we discover that Charles Bon is more than simply a mirror of Thomas Sutpen, he is actually his progeny. The intended marriage of Charles Bon and Sutpen's daughter Judith would result in a perverse ouroboros, a recursion of the Sutpen gene. The incestuous program is terminated, however, when Sutpen's son Henry intervenes and murders Charles Bon.

The novel is presented through the voice of five narrators: Rosa (pages 7-30; 134-173), Mr. Compson (43-134), Quentin (174-292; 358-378), Shreve (293-345) and an omniscient author (31-43; 346-358). These narrators continually rehash the narrative, adding details or contradicting prior notions. Though no single narrator is particularly reliable their combined narratives present a cohesive story.
The details of Sutpen's history are presented by Faulkner (and his narrators) without regard for chronology in a dramatically non-linear manner. Viewpoints may shift drastically and with little warning. The only clue Faulkner provides for this shift may be italics, a parenthesis, quotation marks (double or single), a dash or some combination of these things. These indicators often have a tendency to spiral inward. One finds quotes within quotes and parentheses within parentheses and is left to guess what effect these signals may have on narrative voice, time and space. Largely, we find that these marks are faithful indicators of the narrative shift. Interior monologues situated in the present are italicized whereas thoughts from the past are set in single quotation marks. Directly quoted speech is presented traditionally within double quotation marks.

I believe that Faulkner's presentation of the narrative in a circular manner, without regard for chronology and without structuring it as integrated units, establishes Absalom, Absalom! as an experiment in time and space. There is not a distinct beginning or end to this novel, we must simply submit to the endless circling inward of the author.


Monday, January 28, 2013

#EDCMOOC 20 Minutes Into The Future: Three Dystopic Moments and One Prime-Time TV Show

20 Minutes Into The Future:
Three Dystopic Moments and One Prime-Time TV Show

Hand and Sandywell’s description in “E-topia as Cosmopolis or Citadel” of three “mutually reinforcing” dystopic moments (202) brought to mind an episode of a classic 80s television program which I feel could be beneficial for the discussion of digital cultures and e-learning. This program is the much revered Max Headroom and the episode in question is called “Lessons”.
There’s nothing subtle about this episode - the connection is clear - but I am haunted by its prophetic nature. Problems clear enough to appear on prime-time fiction television a quarter of a century ago still face us today.

The episode opens with a commercial:

“You know knowledge is priceless. That’s why education is worth paying for. With Pay Education TV’s “Know All” Pack you can buy your child the gift of knowledge. Remember, knowledge is power. Subscribe to Pay Education TV: the bright choice.”

Having earned my MA in Media Studies in 2010 I am no stranger to the steep commodification of education. My interest in this topic is related to my dual status as victim and beneficiary of my private education.

Hand & Sandywell’s Three Dystopias

Cyber Exclusion - “an era of cyber-imperialism” p. 202
This dystopia is clearly presented in the cyberpunk milieu of Max Headroom. Numerous groups are excluded by class. Homeless children are excluded from education through the pay-per-view structure of educational programming.

Global Citadel Theory - “a fragmented universe of high tech citadels” p. 203
Like Neal Stephenson’s burbclaves in Snow Crash, citizenship is very much for sale in this dystopia. This future is marked by ‘private solutions to public problems’ (203). Max Headroom presents a dystopia dominated by television networks locked in neofeudalist competition for the hearts, minds, and dollars of the teeming proletariat.

“In such a world, single corporations have access to more information than any single government, while vast populations of derelicts and noncitizens are fair game for the body banks which collect spare parts of biotechnology.” (Ross 147).
In addition, Hand and Sandywell argue that this stratification will result in an erosion of quality in content. Andrew Ross notes that the network programming of Mad Headroom demonstrates an “increase in consumer gratification [which] is manifest in shows such as Lifestyles of the Poor and Pitiful, Porky’s Landing, and Lumpy’s Proletariat, or else the kind of shows, as Max puts it, that ‘go over nobody’s head.” (“Techno-Ethics and Tele-Ethics.” p.147)
Max further comments on the quality of television programming in, what Ross identifies as a paraphrasing of Portia’s plea for mercy in The Merchant of Venice:  “The quality of TV is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle ratings dropeth, to a very tiny percentage share, and lo! ‘tis none.” (153).

Global Panopticon or “The Electronic Panopticon of Cybernetic Capitalism” -
“[T]he cybernetic panopticon of digital capitalism produces docile minds locked into their screens.” (204).
This dystopia relies on a Foucauldian network of electronic surveillance. As in most cyberpunk fictions, the digital panopticon of Max Headroom is largely defined by its oppotion: the Blanks, or people who are not indexed in any government database. As Hand and Sandywell note, these dystopic “moments” are often mutually reinforcing and such is the circumstance for the Blanks. Because they are not indexed they are excluded from many of the benefits of citizenship and are not protected under the law.
The most present Blank in Max Headroom is Blank Reg, the operator of an unlicensed DIY broadcast network, ironically named “Big Time” television, which is headquartered in a pink bus. Blank Reg is “savior” as “sentimental technocrat” in the world of Max Headroom (Ross 147). In “Lessons” Blank activists are targeted for sharing pirated educational programming with impoverished children.

Works Cited:

Ross, Andrew. “Techno-Ethics and Tele-Ethics.” Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural
Criticism. ed. Patricia Mellencamp. 1990. (138-156).

Max Headroom <>
Season 2, Episode 7 [5 May 1988]
Pt 1 <>
Pt 2 <>
Pt 3 <>

Hand, M. and B. Sandywell. 2002. E-topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratizing and
de-democratizing logics of the internet, or, toward a critique of the new technological
fetishism. Theory, Culture & Society 19, no. 1-2: 197-225. (p.205-6)
[The full article can be found here:]